A matzah brei recipe that transforms the unleavened Jewish flatbread into a light eggy dish flavored with orange zest, cardamom, and creamy ricotta.
It’s Passover, the most celebrated of the Jewish holidays. Passover is an eight-day observance that occurs each spring. It acknowledges the Israelites’ freedom from the ancient Egyptians. Even most of us Gentiles know that with Passover comes specific dietary rituals. Yet I have to say that although I’ve enjoyed Passover dinners with friends, I didn't know the reasoning for the rituals or the big fuss about matzah.
As the story goes, the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. So they had to eat it unleavened. That's why starting at noon on the day before Passover, and for the next eight days, Jews are not to have any leavened or fermented grains.
Known as chametz, this includes wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt. Not only does this include cakes and cookies, but most alcoholic beverages as well. And to be safe – about all processed foods. More so, according to custom, a Jew must also remove any chametz from their home during this time. Most eat it before Passover or give it away, but there is also mention of burning one’s supply.
Luckily, they can eat matzah (also spelled “matzo” and “matza”), a type of unleavened bread, in place of chametz. It plays an important role in the first two nights of Passover when dinners called Seders occur. The Seder is a 15 step ritual dinner that involves bitter herbs, onion or potato dipped in saltwater, four cups of wine, and plenty of matzahs.
Matzah is commonly available in grocery stores. In fact, I discovered quite the selection when I took a look for myself. There was gluten-free, whole wheat, egg, thin, thick, everything (like the bagel), and a few others. Yet, it’s the simple flour and water kind that’s permitted for Seder. Egg matzah is sometimes allowed, as is the gluten-free version if you have an intolerance. For the traditional, the flour must come from wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oat.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH MATZAH?
I took home a box of whole wheat and one of the thin tea styles. But I haven’t read about anyone eating matzah while sipping tea. I wasn’t expecting much. Both were crisp and tasted like a thin, unsalted cracker. I have to say they tasted better than I expected. Matzo Ball Soup, made with ground-up matzah, is well known, but I was curious about other ideas for using them.
Many people stock up on matzah this time of year, and after the holiday passes (pun intended), I’ve seen shelves full of the boxes – including what looks like lifetime supply packs – quickly go on sale. The good news is that in theory, a box of matzah can last forever. But why wait?
Making Matzah Brei
As a Jewish friend informed me, one of the favorite uses for matzah is in a dish known as Matzah Brei. It’s matzah that is cooked and pan-fried with eggs. It’s so simple to make and tastes kind of like French toast crossed with an omelet. You can go savory or sweet.
Of course, I went with a sweet option, adding orange zest and juice, creamy ricotta cheese, and cardamom. I think you'll appreciate how a boring cracker transforms into the beloved matzah brei, perfect for a sweet dessert or the star of a springtime brunch.